Miguel had not been to a party in a very long time, not since the death of his wife. On that day life had ended for him. His heart was broken as the love of his life was tragically taken from him. They had been married for only seven years and had two daughters, ages five and three. That sad day was twelve years ago and in that time Miguel had devoted himself to raising his daughters. There was no social life, no other women. His daughters were his universe.
During that time, Miguel’s friends and family tried to get him out of the house and socialize. They felt he locked himself away to shut out the world and were worried about him, but Miguel didn’t think so. He was quite content with being a single father. Not to mention his work being a graphic designer kept him very busy as well. No, he had no need or desire to venture forth and taste the night life waters again.
Then one day his boss Rick called Miguel into his office. Thinking nothing of it, Miguel stopped what he was doing and strode into his boss’s office, which was a very spacious room located in the middle of the floor with a floor to ceiling plate glass window that had a wonderful view of the Delaware river. Vertical blinds were slanted open to allow the sunlight in, brightening the office further along with the fluorescent ceiling lights. An L-shaped desk sat to the right side of the room with three PC monitors stacked in a pyramid shape, two on the bottom and one on top. Two drafting tables with digital drawing monitors and various sketchpads, markers and pencil sets sat upon their surfaces, were to the far left hand side of the offices. Two flat file cases that held various finished and ongoing projects were placed next to the tables. Along the wall where the door was, stood heavy oak bookshelves that held numerous books on art, from fine art to cutting edge digital. In front of the desk were three brown leather chairs spaced evenly apart. Behind the desk with his head staring at one of the screens in front of him while he drew on a digital sketch pad.
Miguel knocked on the doorframe to announce his presence and his boss waved him in. He told Miguel to take a seat and he will be with him in a minute. Miguel sat in the middle seat. The coolness on the leather could be felt through the fabric of his khaki pants. The chair creaked a bit as Miguel settled in and leaned back. About a minute goes by before his boss puts down the stylus, raises both arms in the air, stretches and lets out a yawn. Obviously the man was tired as he was known as a workhorse in the office. First one in, last one out. Everyone loved the man as he was considered the perfect person to work for. And the industry agreed as he possessed numerous awards that could be seen hanging on the wall behind his desk. He swiveled his chair around to face Miguel and gave him a broad grin and reached out across his desk with his right hand to shake Miguel’s hand.
The conversation started off with the usual pleasantries, asking after each other’s families then shifted to popular topics within the office and industry. Finally Rick got down to business and began telling Miguel why he asked him into his office. There was an upcoming Graphic Arts networking event being held at the Fringe Arts building down on Delaware Avenue. The Latino Chamber of Commerce is promoting the event as part of their push for up and coming Latino artists to see and be seen. He went on to say that as his senior in-house artist, he needed Miguel to attend the event and participate in the Art Jam contest that was part of an auction charity event. There would be ten teams competing and the top five pieces would be auctioned off. But there was a catch. The teams would be randomly selected by the contest organizers so no one would know each other’s style, which would make collaboration and team work essential. Rick chuckled at this last part as he knew all too well the egos that artists could have. So, the outcome of the contest should be very interesting.
Immediately Miguel began shaking his head no. He raised both hands with fingers spread out wide and began shaking them in protest. But before Miguel could utter any words in his defense of why he should not go, rick cut him off by bringing this conversation to a more personal level. Miguel stood rock still as Rick told him how he and his fellow co-workers were worried about him. How he never goes out with his colleagues when invited or participates in office parties. He doesn’t even go out alone. Yes, Rick knew how devoted Miguel was to his daughters, but he also knew that life needed to be lived outside of the shell Miguel built around himself. Rick pressed on by saying how going to this “party” would benefit him in untold ways and open up a whole new set of doors to opportunities, both professional and personal.
Miguel fought against Rick’s logic, not wanting to be a part of this “party”. A fear deep inside, at the core of his being held him in its icy grip. It was a fear of that prevented him from living, from enjoying his life other than being a good father and working at the Graphic Design firm that employed him. But Miguel also knew, somewhere in his mind that living a secluded life the way he did was not healthy. In his mind, he knew this to be true, but his heart held him back. He had not gone out to enjoy himself in a social manner ever since her lost…her.
Rick saw Miguel teetering and decided to use one last trump card. He told him, as his friend and sort-of-mentor that if he did not do this for himself or the firm, he should at least do it for his daughters. That comment stole the show because it made Miguel pause in his thoughts and immediately think of his two girls. Melissa and Tabitha were seventeen and fifteen now. Both growing up to be beautiful young ladies. Their features were a mixture of their parents as well as their demeanors. Raising them was certainly a challenge, but he wouldn’t have any other way. The girls loved their father, but saw his loneliness and wanted him to be happy. In recent years they began prodding and poking at him to go out and have fun. He could see in their eyes how much they loved him and wanted him to be happy. In the back of his mind, a tiny, almost imperceptible voice said “go”. It sounded vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t put a finger on it. “Go”, it whispered once more. The sound of Rick’s voice refocused Miguel’s attention. In that moment Miguel made a decision. He said yes before his heart could quickly close his mouth and keep him within his carefully crafted shell.
Not really believing his ears, with that one word Miguel knew he would be stepping back out into the real world to interact with real people. Of course he did that on a daily basis by coming to work, going to the supermarket, the laundromat, etc. But that was by necessity, this was different. It required Miguel to intermingle with people from all walks of life, on different levels than he was. It meant he had to conquer his fear of other people touching his life, of him being hurt once again.
Rick gave Miguel the details for the event, which was taking place that coming Friday evening at 7:30 pm. Dress code was semi-formal due to the art jam being multimedia use. No use in getting a good suit ruined by paint, right? Miguel took all this in as he left Rick’s office and headed back to his cubicle. His mind was ablaze with all manner of thoughts. The main one being how the heck did he allow himself to be pinned into this position? One other thought was, as distant as it sounded, that he actually might enjoy this.
Friday came and Miguel was a bundle of nerves. Rick had given him a thumbs up as he left the office for the day and headed home to get ready for the party. When he arrived, both of his daughters were waiting by the front door for him. They were excited for him ever since he told them about the party he was going to. They promptly ushered him up the stairs and shoved him into the bathroom with orders to scrub himself squeaky clean as they prepared the clothes he was going to wear that night. Inside the bathroom he paused for a minute. His nerves were trying to get the better of him. He saw himself in the mirror of the medicine cabinet. The image staring back was one of fear and anxiety. His eyes were wide and beginning to moisten. Tiny beads of sweat began to form across his brow and trickle down his face. He swiped from left to right with the back of his right hand to clear away the sweat. For a moment he thought he would lose control of his nerves and break down. They threatened to overwhelm him, but at that very moment he overheard his daughters talking about him finally going out and enjoy himself. The joy he heard in their voices was enough to help settle his nerves and regain control of himself. Breathe in, breathe out, he thought to himself. Inhale, exhale. The nervousness bled away allowing him to relax.
Within twenty minutes he was showered and shaved. In another 15 minutes he was dressed and downstairs where his daughters dutifully spritzed some cologne on him. He did not recognize the scent as one of the few he owned. His girls told him they had bought it for this special occasion. They spun him around and inspected him from head to toe. They had chosen a cream colored undershirt with a light blue untuck style shirt worn overtop, paired with black denim jeans and black Doc Martin slip on boots that were ankle high. It was a temperate sixty-three degrees outside, so no jacket was needed. After saying goodnight and making sure they locked the door behind him, Miguel got into his car and drove to the Fringe Arts building. During the drive downtown, Miguel let his thoughts drift over what he was about to do. He still couldn’t believe he allowed Rick to talk him into this as well as the enthusiasm of his daughters in getting him ready and emotionally supporting him. They continued to amaze him each and every day.
Miguel took the long way down to center city from where he lived up in northeast Philly. The route led him along Richmond Street which eventually turned into Delaware Avenue. He followed it until he saw the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and knew the Fringe Arts building would be just passed it on the right hand side across from the river and the Pine Street Pier. He parked his car a block before his destination on Callowhill Street and walked the rest of the way. With each step he took he could feel the tingling sensation of butterflies in his stomach. The jittery nerves set off small rumbles in his belly. He stopped for a moment to take a few calming breaths. Once again he was able to settle himself and began his trek towards the party.
From half a block away he saw the flood lights lining the street outside of Fringe Arts. He could also hear House music being played. He had to fight with himself from aborting the night. Rick, the firm and his daughters were counting on him. He did not want to disappoint them, especially his girls. On he went until he saw the crowd of people lined up to get in. There was a check in at the door. If you were invited, your name would be on the list. Two burly looking men in black suits stood at the entrance with Ipads in their hands checking in the guests as they stepped up to the door. It took Miguel about 10 minutes to get through security and into the receiving area where he was handed a tag with his name and the name of his firm etched on it. This was it. The moment that would make or break him. He stepped forth into the crowd of people surrounding him. It was like taking a leap of faith into the unknown. For better or for worse, he was now determined to see this night through.
The night started with the opening presentation from the Latino Chamber of Commerce which then segued into several guest speakers opining about the struggles of the Spanish speaking cultures that have migrated to America over the years. The economic and social challenges were daunting obstacles, as they would be to any ethnic culture seeking their fortune in “The Land of the Free”. But now is the time of the “Latinx” (the new all-inclusive buzzword to describe men and women of Latin descent) as the people begin to thrive like never before, experiencing success at unprecedented levels. From arts and entertainment to business and politics to sports and the culinary world, Latinx are a rising force to be reckoned with. Miguel listened as each speaker gave their impassioned speech and gracefully bowed to thunderous applause from the surrounding crowds. During this time, servers wandered throughout the spacious main room with drink and food for the attendees.
Miguel looked about him nervously and could feel the walls begin to close about him. He could see the many glances thrown his way as he wandered about the room until he suddenly spotted a friendly face. It was his boss Rick, who stood speaking with Anna Bonetelli, the owner of one of our competitor design firms. Rick spotted Miguel and called him over. After introductions were made, Rick put a reassuring hand on Miguel’s right shoulder and sang his praises to Anna. At that moment, the MC for the night’s festivities announced the drawing of teams for the Art Jam. As the MC announced the teams, Miguel found himself paired with none other than Anna. They both looked each other with surprise as Rick took a step back away from both of them and pointedly told Anna “Try not to eat my boy alive, will you?” and walked away.
Miguel gathered himself, trying not to look scared or foolish and shrugged his shoulders as he smiled and told Anna that they might as well enjoy themselves, right? The rest of their team consisted of three other people, two men and one woman. After they all introduced themselves, they headed off to the back room where the Art Jam was being held. Their team was directed to a blank wall of sheet rock where numerous markers, pencils, paints, pastels and water colors were waiting for them on a rolling cart. The object of the Art Jam was simple…make a beautiful piece of artwork that could be sold at the charity auction towards the end of the evening.
Miguel focused on the task at hand, but could feel the attention of Anna centered on him. The woman, an Asian female by the name of Mei Zhang took it upon herself to take control of the group, which was fine by Miguel. She offered up ideas and politely listened to others as she directed them to settle on a compromise of all their ideas. The wall was six and a half feet high by five feet across. Plenty of space for all of them to work on their imagined piece. Over the course of the next hour and a half the artwork was coming together. Spray paint covered most of the areas while they concentrated on a specific points with charcoal and pastels, mixed with grey and white water color wash. As he felt in the beginning, he had the strong sense of Anna watching him like a hawk. Every time he caught her looking, she would simply give a sultry smile and focus back on the task at hand. The five of them worked well, no one ego dominating the others. Surprisingly enough, Miguel found that he was enjoying his time there. As time continued to pass and the Art Jam came and went. He started connecting with most of the people he came into contact with. Especially Anna. No, he did not make the first move, but she did.
Those dark brown almond shaped eyes drew him in the moment he saw her. Her voice was captivating, as was the way she held herself and spoke in a very articulate manner. By the end of the auction, where they saw their piece sell at the second highest price. A piece they aptly named “Unity”, for it shone in the many diverse colors and media the used, five diverse faces with no distinct features, but of obvious different ethnicity that was surrounded in a multi-shape and colorful diorama. The group themselves exchanged contact information and scheduled a group night out at a local artsy open mic place somewhere in Olde City. But Anna made sure Miguel would call her for so they could enjoy some time together as well. Two adults with similar pasts and similar interest enjoying some time together.
Once again, to his amazement Miguel welcomed it. His fears of the night had dissipated, left without a trade. No more nerves, no more sadness. Nothing. He looked forward to seeing Anna again. And thanks to Rick, going out to that party made all the difference in the world.